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S Africans Els and Goosen eye coveted green jacket

Written by: Staff

AUGUSTA, Georgia, Apr 5 (Reuters) After combining for three runner-up finishes in the last six years, Retief Goosen and Ernie Els believe conditions may finally be right for another South African champion at the US Masters.

Not since Gary Player in 1978 has a South African slipped on a green jacket, but with the Augusta National Golf Club firming up under sunny weather so too are the South Africans' chances of claiming the year's first major.

''I enjoy the greens here,'' said Goosen, twice a US Open champion and runner-up at the Masters in 2002, during a media briefing yesterday. ''The quicker they are the better.

''Last week I struggled a bit at the BellSouth (Classic) because they were slow but this week it's definitely going to be good fun.

''It just seems that my stroke seems to be better on fast greens.

''I think we're going to see a different course than we have in the last few years. I think we're going to see some really firm and fast greens for a change here.'' Despite being stretched to an imposing 7,445 yards, putting remains the key to unlocking victory at Augusta National.

Goosen, who claimed his second US Open victory at a sun-baked Shinnecock Hills, excels on lightning quick greens having Goosen will rank among the favourites when play gets underway with the opening round tomorrow.

SOMETHING SPECIAL His compatriot Els has an enviable major championship pedigree but the smooth-swinging South African will start as a bit of a wild card as he slowly returns to form after missing the final four months of last season following knee surgery.

''I'm not playing exactly the way you want to play but I'm playing good enough,'' said Els, a three-times major winner and twice a runner-up at Augusta. ''I've just got to be patient and see where it takes me this week.

''I'm pretty close to doing something special hopefully.

''I've been close and I've done a lot of good things around here without winning.

''I think in 2004 it was almost in the bag and Phil (Mickelson) came through like a champion,'' added Els, who led by two with five holes before the left-hander rallied to clinch his first major.

''I love the place, I like the way it sets up now, so let's give it another go.

''Since I've come out I've always tried to win major championships.

''That's where the golf courses are stretched to their limits and you basically get stretched to your limits and that's where you've got to perform.'' Reuters PDS GC0942

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